Duke Law celebrates a third Supreme Court clerkship

April 6, 2010Duke Law News

A third Duke Law graduate is headed for a Supreme Court clerkship.

Allison B. Jones ’07 will clerk for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas during the 2010-2011 term. She will join Amy Mason Saharia ’05 and Garrick Sevilla ’07 in the 2010-2011 clerkship class. Sevilla will clerk for Associate Justice Samuel Alito and Mason Saharia will clerk for Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Read more about Sevilla and Saharia.)

“I never would have imagined that I would be clerking on the Supreme Court,” said Jones who, like Mason Saharia, is a litigation associate at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. Jones credits Chief Judge David Sentelle, for whom she clerked on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, with giving her “extra encouragement” to send her application to Justice Thomas, who granted her an interview in early 2009.

“He’s very easy to talk with and we had such an enjoyable conversation,” she said. They talked about their upbringings in small Southern towns ⎯ Thomas comes from Pin Point, Ga., and Jones grew up in East Flat Rock, N.C. “We talked about the importance of our families and upbringings and what an influence that has on a child and how those early expectations can shape your attitude for the future. No matter where you come from, having a supportive family that values education and hard work prepares you to achieve what you set your mind to.”

Jones interned at the Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice during the summer following her graduation from Duke Law. “It was so exciting right out of school to be dealing with constitutional questions in practical terms through advising the executive branch,” she said of the experience that she thinks too few students pursue. “It’s not just an idea or a theory on paper any more — it has real consequences.” She then embarked on the first of her two appellate clerkships, with Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

“It was an exciting time to be in Judge Gorsuch’s chambers — it was just his second term on the bench,” she said, noting that he also clerked for Sentelle. “He had been a litigator and approached cases with an eye to clarifying the law, asking ‘How can we make more sense of and improve upon the existing case law?’ So he engaged in rigorous legal analysis and emphasized the importance of explaining the underpinnings of decisions in a way that readers could understand, which I thought was very respectful to the parties, the attorneys who would deal with the decisions in the future, and the development of the law. So that experience helped to shape my thoughts on deciding cases and writing opinions.”

Jones admired Sentelle’s mastery in building consensus among his colleagues as he worked to craft unanimity among his colleagues on an opinion in a particularly contentious case. He put in the hard work to achieve unanimity when it would be most important, she said, and he knew when to hold his ground and persuade his colleagues and when to compromise. “It was such an educational experience to talk through cases with Judge Sentelle, with his wealth of knowledge and experience, and to observe the persuasive power of his legal analysis, whether in dissent or in crafting a unanimous opinion.”

Both clerkships offered Jones valuable lessons on the importance of legal writing that she has taken into practice. “There is so much writing that goes on in clerkships, not only drafting opinions, but writing to your judge and other judges. That’s been very beneficial to the work I do now,” said Jones, who as a law student served as executive editor of the Duke Law Journal. “In that way, the clerkships were just a continuation of my law school education in learning how to write clearly and effectively. That skill is of course valuable in practice, where we are trying to persuade judges.”

Having attended Duke as a Smith-Mordecai scholar, Jones was delighted to be able to share the news of her upcoming clerkship with benefactor Lanty Smith ’67. “I try to keep in touch with him to let him know what’s going on in my career, especially since he is the reason I went to Duke — I wouldn’t have been able to go without his generosity. It’s a small way to say ‘Thanks again, Lanty.’”

Jones said she’s proud to be in Duke’s first trifecta of Supreme Court clerks and appreciates Dean David Levi’s work in expanding the clerkship program. “I know clerkships have been a priority for him,” she said. “We’ve always had that caliber of students and I’m glad the school is getting national recognition for it. It’s about time!”
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